Sympathy baguettes

“There. Sorry, but that was forward.”

Radio journalists, everywhere we go, we record what we call “buzz track” or “wild track”. It’s the sound you don’t notice – the dull roar of a crowd, traffic, the murmur of conversations or the shouts of a protest. It’s what gives life and context to the things we do, so we don’t sound like we’re sitting in a studio, when really we were recording the interview amid the machinery of a factory.

Back in 2007, I was a junior reporter, and so conscientious I left my microphone open for most of the second half of the All Blacks being dumped ignominiously out of the Rugby World Cup by France in Cardiff.

As I started to write my piece, buzz playing gently in my ears because I’d forgotten to pause the track, there was my own voice railing against Wayne Barnes’ failure to call that forward pass.

It had seemed like such a sweet gig. Early morning, some coffee, a croissant. I am pretty sure there was freshly squeezed orange juice, and if there wasn’t it wasn’t because my hosts, the Wellington Alliance Française weren’t extremely gracious.

On the other hand, I was likely a complete asshole. Supremely confident the All Blacks would walk all over Les Bleus, what seemed to me like “gentle mocking” was probably more like outright gloating. Which meant that the French kindness when we were losing was even more galling.

I remember sitting at the back of the room, head in hands, and a Kiwi photographer leaning over and telling me it would be OK. Not in a “life goes on, this too shall pass” way, but more “calm down love, it’s just rugby.” He spurred me out of my seat, to conduct my final interview.

It was that photographer I was talking to when I complained about that forward pass. Had I been watching at the pub with my friends, the language used would not have been suitable for broadcast, so silver linings?

Looking back now, that forward pass wasn’t what lost the All Blacks the match, but then, rather than blame the selection policy, the weird bias against dropkicks or the All Blacks just not being good enough, it made more sense to blame Barnes. After all, we were best in the world, weren’t we?

I am old enough that I vaguely remember 1987 but most of my memory involves being confused between rugby and soccer and getting into a fight with my brother that there had been Rugby World Cups before. I grew up around rugby, and rugby players, so the RWC was there for my whole life. By the time 1999 rolled around, I was watching in my pyjamas in a lecture hall at university. I was frustrated by the country’s obsession with the sport, so I was almost gleeful when France beat ‘us’ then, too.

2007 was the first time I remember caring in a non-academic way. It was the first time I was invested in a game – the first time I understood what my Dad had been thinking all this time. And they let me down.

Trudging back to work after the lovely French people had consoled me (and offered me baguettes to take back to the newsroom – an offer you can imagine I accepted with grace and dignity), I ran into a family walking up Lambton Quay. I asked if I could interview them for a vox pop, but it turned out they were Australian. “Oh, you’ll understand how I am feeling then,” I said.

One of them, a teenage girl, leaned close to me and said “Yeah, but we lost to England. You lost to France. That’s so much worse.”

***

Radio New Zealand’s rugby reporter Barry Guy was in Cardiff, and we struggled to get him on on air for a major bulletin after the game. Not because he was overly emotional, but because his hotel room didn’t have a phone or internet, so he had to do it from a payphone down the road. To add insult to injury he had to stay on for the final.

I asked him about it the other day, and his main memory was that all the French journos were really nice to him, saying how much they loved the All Blacks, and wanted them to be in the final. Les bastards.

Back in the newsroom, we hadn’t even really prepared for a loss. I turned my “sorry, but that was forward” grab into a package, and we got the the inevitable dissection of ‘what went wrong’. (Answer: sports.) I did about 10 live crosses to radio stations all over the world. (Possibly just to reassure them that the country wasn’t literally on fire.)

The All Blacks have said this week they’re not thinking about revenge, and let’s face it, we got that at Eden Park in 2011. But if they were to just make doubly sure that the demons of 2007 were well exorcised this weekend [Ed note: and they CERTAINLY did!], there is a bunch of us who wouldn’t complain.

Contributed by Megan

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